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Jane's Window

My Spirited Life in West Texas and Austin

Jane Dunn Sibley, as told to Jim Comer; Foreword by T. R. Fehrenbach; introduction by James L. Haley

Publication Year: 2013

On the southern portion of what was known as the Sibley’s Pezuna del Caballo (Horse’s Hoof) Ranch in West Texas’ Culberson County are two mountains that nearly meet, forming a gap that frames a salt flat where Indians and later, pioneers came to gather salt to preserve foodstuffs. According to the US Geological Survey, the gap that provides this breathtaking and historic view is named “Jane’s Window.”

In Jane’s Window: My Spirited Life in West Texas and Austin, Jane Dunn Sibley, the inimitable namesake of that mountain gap, gives readers a similarly enchanting view: she tells the story of a small-town West Texas girl coming into her own in Texas’ capital city, where her commitment to philanthropy and the arts and her flair for fashion—epitomized by her signature buzzard feather—have made her name a society staple.

Growing up during the Depression in Fort Stockton, Jane Sibley learned first-hand the value of hard work and determination. In what she describes as “a more innocent age,” she experienced the “pleasant life” of a rural community with good schools, friends and neighbors, and daily dips in the Comanche Springs swimming pool. She arrived as a student at the University of Texas only ninety days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and studied art under such luminaries as sculptor Charles Umlauf. Her enchanting stories of returning to Fort Stockton, working in the oil industry, marrying local doctor D. J. Sibley, and rearing a family evoke both her love for her origins and her clear-eyed aspirations.

The Sibleys never discussed the details of their good fortune, and, to their gratitude, no one ever asked. In Jane’s Window, Sibley narrates travel adventures, shares vignettes of famous visitors, and tells of her favorite causes, among which the Austin Symphony and the preservation of lower Pecos prehistoric rock art are especially prominent.

Peopled with vivid characters and told in Sibley’s uniquely down-to-earth and humorous manner, Jane’s Window paints a portrait of a life filled to the brim with events both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life Series

Cover Page

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p. 1-1

Title Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Nor is this memoir. It is hopefully a work of literature, but it is also a significant history of times and places and people too little recorded or remembered in a Texas that has changed within her lifetime from a rural state to a crowded urban one. ...

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pp. xi-xii

Late in 2008 I was working hard against a deadline to finish my biography of Jack London. I came home one day to find a telephone message from Jane Dunn Sibley, asking me to call her regarding a memoir she was writing. I had met Mrs. Sibley several months before when I gave a talk about the arts in Texas history to an Art League gathering. ...

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Prologue: Mahala Milligan

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pp. 1-2

Thomas James Milligan, the first elected sheriff of Mason County, Texas, a rancher and keeper of a stage stand on the Camp Colorado and San Antonio Road, was attacked by a small band of Comanche Indians in February 1860. Sheriff Milligan was afoot, accompanied by his small dog, “Sargent.” ...

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01. Gifts from the Past

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pp. 3-12

I have been blessed with good genes, a strong, independent family, and the legacy of my great-great-grandmother Mahala. She was among the early settlers in Central Texas during a time when Indians often attacked those who had “Gone to Texas” to find land and start new lives. ...

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02. Growing Up in Fort Stockton

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pp. 13-26

My Mama, Minnie, and my father, who was always called by his last name—Dunn—lived happily near Comanche Springs in Fort Stockton. By the time I came along in 1924, life in our town had calmed down considerably from its Wild West period. ...

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03. The University in Wartime

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pp. 27-41

There was never any discussion in my family about where I would go to college. One day, my father said, “You are going to the University of Texas, because it’s going to be a great school someday.” ...

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04. D. J. Sibley

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pp. 42-53

D.J. Sibley, who became my husband, was an only child. He was eleven years older than I. While we were growing up, I did not know him well, though he loved riding horseback with my mama and her friend, Myrtle Mendel. When he was a little boy, D. J. often rode a burro he had bought for fifty cents. ...

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05. On My Own

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pp. 54-60

After my graduation from UT, I moved to Dallas, because I felt it was a better fashion town than Houston or San Antonio. My goal was to work at one of the large downtown department stores, so I applied to the advertising offices of the three largest stores: Neiman-Marcus, Sanger’s, and Titche-Goettinger. ...

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06. An Unconventional Romance

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pp. 61-69

D.J. scarcely had time to be delighted by the prospect of coming home after the war before he was told some terrible news. During his discharge physical, the army doctors discovered that, besides hepatitis, he had contracted tuberculosis. Immediately, D. J. received orders committing him to Fitzsimmon General Hospital in Colorado, ...

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07. An “Old Maid” No More

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pp. 70-86

First thing D. J. and I had to do was pick a date for our wedding, not an easy decision: one of my friends was about to deliver her fourth child and D. J. was her doctor, so he had to estimate when her baby might be arriving. ...

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08. Motherhood

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pp. 87-91

The year after Hiram was born, I contracted mononucleosis, which was terribly debilitating. All I could manage to do for months was to stay in bed. Before I became ill, D. J. and I had bought the Gray Mule Saloon in Fort Stockton, which we were restoring. ...

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09. Preserving History and Moving a Church

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pp. 92-108

By 1957, when Hiram arrived, I had been married for seven years, had three children, a busy husband, and the crowded social calendar of every doctor’s wife. D. J.’s and mine was a good life and we were happy living and working in Fort Stockton. ...

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10. Our World Explodes while I’m Washing Sheets

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pp. 109-125

For eleven years, D. J. and I led an active life in Fort Stockton with our three growing children and lots of friends. Our only major problem was D. J.’s never-ending medical practice. That part of our life was difficult for our whole family. ...

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11. Laguna Gloria

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pp. 126-130

After we moved to Austin, I became involved with the Laguna Gloria Museum of Art, an institution founded to showcase Texas artists and their work. The museum was a bequest of heiress Clara Driscoll, who, at the age of nineteen, became famous for using her money to buy the Alamo in San Antonio, saving it from demolition. ...

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12. The Castle

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pp. 131-151

D.J. and I had never actually planned to build a castle on a mountaintop, forty-two miles from anywhere. The castle’s true genesis was an exploding commode; a significant secondary element in its existence was a talented architect who owed D. J. $10,000. ...

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13. The Symphony

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pp. 152-171

Nettie Jones, a neighbor of ours, invited me in 1967 to join the board of the Austin Symphony Orchestra (ASO). Believe it or not, for the first few years I served, I kept relatively quiet. The men on that board ran things, but did not seem to have any real enthusiasm for the work. ...

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14. Symphony Square

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pp. 172-186

By 1974, the symphony was already beginning to gain in popularity and to succeed financially, so we needed more office space. Through good fortune and the initiative of Peggy Brown, a board member, we able to expand our physical location and to develop the wholly new concept we call today, “Symphony Square.” ...

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15. People I Have Been Privileged to Meet and to Know

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pp. 187-206

D. J. and I were fortunate to own two beautiful places to live—first, our home in Austin, designed by Hal B. Thompson in the Spanish Revival style that later swept the southwest including California, and the other, The Castle, the contemporary house we erected on a mountaintop in the Glass Mountains of West Texas. ...

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16. Buzzard Feathers and Movie Stars

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pp. 207-218

My friend Grace Jones has led a fascinating life. People of a certain age will understand that I do not mean the movie star of the same name but the former leading fashion model. She attended the University of Texas at the same time I did, and I am surprised our paths did not cross there. ...

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17. Rock Art: Not All Masterpieces Are in Museums

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pp. 219-231

D. J. and I had been interested in historic preservation ever since we helped organize the Fort Stockton Historical Society back in the mid-fifties. We learned that you do not need to hold public office to make a big difference while trying to save historic structures and natural treasures. ...

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18. Lifetime Friendships

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pp. 232-246

I am so grateful for the enduring friendships I have maintained. There are a few of us who grew up in Fort Stockton in the twenties and thirties who still call each other regularly. Sometimes, we phone each other at least every three months or so, but often we connect once a week. Whenever we talk or see each other, we still have our good and strong connections. ...

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19. Around the World

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pp. 247-264

Early in 1983, I received a phone call from Mary Neely in Houston, who wanted to know if the Austin Symphony would like to sponsor the Youth Orchestra from China. An Oscar-winning documentary, From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, featured the Chinese orchestra. ...

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20. The Long Center

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pp. 265-284

Frank Erwin was the legendary chairman of the University of Texas board of regents and a confidant of governors and of presidents. One day, Mr. Erwin called and invited me to lunch at the Headliner’s Club. ...

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21. Jake: 1950–1991

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pp. 285-301

Our firstborn son had a name as expansive as his personality: Dunn Jacobi Sibley. Dunn was my family name and Jacobi was his grandfather Sibley’s middle name. “Jake” was his nickname and it stuck. ...

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22. Mahala: 1952–2003

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pp. 302-319

Mahala started high school at St. Mary’s in the Mountains in New Hampshire. The day we moved her into the dorm, her roommate informed us that she did not believe in God and she hated her mother. Those were just about her first words to us. ...

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23. Hiram: 1957–

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pp. 320-331

When Hiram was only six months old, D. J. became chair of a committee of the Texas Medical Society. They had a big meeting in Dallas and he wanted me to go with him. I was still nursing Hiram, so we took him and our maid with us, leaving Jake and Mahala in the care of their grandmothers back home in Fort Stockton. ...

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24. D. J.: The Great Survivor

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pp. 332-347

I believe a person should marry someone interesting. Physical attraction is important, but it is not what sustains a relationship. The qualities that last a lifetime are intelligence, a passion for learning, and mutual interests. D. J. was knowledgeable and active in so many fields. ...

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25. The Joys of Unsolicited Advice

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pp. 348-360

Now that I am eighty-eight, I feel I have earned the right to offer some advice to my six grandchildren as well as to anyone else who might be interested. In this chapter, I mean to answer this question: What are the ingredients of a meaningful, productive, and happy life? ...

Appendix: Chronology—Jane Horton Dunn Sibley

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pp. 361-366


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pp. 367-376

E-ISBN-13: 9781603449793
E-ISBN-10: 1603449795
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603448024

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 108 b&w photos. Index.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Clayton Wheat Williams Texas Life Series